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Pickin’ the PAC: measuring stick time for WSU and USC

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The Cougs and Trojans highlight a full PAC 12 slate.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington State
Is Luke Falk ready to be the hero in Friday night’s game against USC?
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

My fortunes in PAC 12 picks took a slight downward trend last week. I cooled off from my torrid start to finish 4-2 on the weekend after getting tripped up by both ASU (over Oregon) and Stanford (over UCLA).

While I stumbled in the straight up picks, I won’t lose any sleep over 4-2. I can also take some solace in the fact that I had another great week of predicting scores. My accuracy index for the week spiked at 75% for the week based off of some very closely predicted scores in USC / Cal and Oregon / ASU affairs.

So, here is where I stand with another week of tough picks ahead:

PAC 12 picks and score prediction accuracy after Week 4
Chris Landon

Game of the Week

#5 USC at #16 Washington State

Friday 7:30pm PT, ESPN, USC -3.5

The game of the week pits the only two ranked teams facing one another in the conference this week. For both teams it will be a measuring stick kind of affair.

USC is the visiting team. They are coming off a couple of lackluster wins - against Texas and at Cal - that have the national media wondering aloud about both the toughness of their defense and the merit of QB Sam Darnold as a Heisman candidate and all-around stud.

The Cougars are facing different kinds of questions. Currently ranked 16th in the nation, many are wondering if the Cougs are a paper tiger or if they’ve risen to capable levels on both offense AND defense. If the latter, the next question is if they have enough juice to take down a top five opponent. I’m not completely sure about this (I hope a Coug out there will fact check me), but I do not believe the Cougs have beaten a top 5 team since WSU beat #5 Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl.

Vegas shows this game as a near toss-up with USC’s personnel advantages being neutralized by WSU’s home field advantage. I concur with this point of view. I do think this is a relatively even matchup.

The biggest factor for me will be how USC does in establishing its running game. They’ve not been as good as you’d expect over the past two weeks. But Ronald Jones is back after missing last week. I think that will be a huge boost for the USC given that Stephen Carr (who is a real weapon) doesn’t appear ready to carry the whole load himself. If WSU can contain the run, then watch out. I’ve been impressed with the Coug pass rush and I think their front seven is going to be very effective against the Trojan offensive line whenever Darnold is forced into passing situations.

I also think that the Cougs are going to be able to move the ball against USC. Luke Falk’s height, I think, nullifies the obscure knack that USC has shown in knocking balls down at the line of scrimmage (something they’ve been doing at a crazy clip all season) and I think he’ll be well positioned to pressure USC’s challenged secondary. But it is all on Falk to resist his natural tendencies to revert back to “Dink and Dunk” Luke. The pressure will be on Luke to find the right balance of risk-taking and ball protection while under the bright lights of national television. If WSU can’t generate some outside long-range scoring plays, I question how effective they’ll be in the red zone.

Ultimately, I am going to bet on that USC rushing attack getting going. It should be a great game, but I’ll go with USC in a squeaker.

Gekko’s Pick: USC 35, WSU 34

Rest of the PAC

ASU at Stanford

1pm, PAC 12 Networks, Stanford -16

Here is an interesting stat: Stanford RB Bryce Love has at least one 50 yard rush in each of the last six games he has played in dating back to last season.

What does that have to do with this game? ASU, despite effectively shutting down the Duck rushing attack in last week’s upset, is not a good rush defense team. Against a power rushing team like Stanford, they are decidedly overmatched even if you don’t love the Cardinal O-Line. Love, himself, is very capable of both getting past the first level and then winning just about any 1:1 battle he has with a would-be solo tackler. I think he’s going to run all day on the Sun Devils.

The only question I have is whether or not Stanford will be fully healthy at their cornerback position after losing both Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder last week. If both come back, they present a nice challenge for ASU QB Manny Wilkins to navigate. If not, I could see Jalen Harvey, Kyle Williams and N’Keal Harry all getting some big plays and keeping it close.

Gekko’s Pick: ASU 31, Stanford 41

Cal at Oregon

7:30pm, FS1, Oregon -13.5

I’m fairly certain that there are going to be a number of UW fans out there that want me - nay, need me - to pick Cal in the upset here. I completely understand. Cal is a great feel-good story already. How much better would it feel if a native Oregon son (Justin Wilcox) strolled into his alma mater and took out a hated UW rival.

It ain’t going to happen folks. Cal just doesn’t have enough offense (gasp!) to keep up with the Oregon scoring machine. QB Ross Bowers is the lowest rated QB in the conference, is not accurate, is prone to turnovers and is down a couple of important guys in Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson. The running game is led by a former walk-on with limited athleticism. There just isn’t enough juice in the system to outscore and Oregon team that has the capability of putting up more than 30 points on this Cal defense.

Gekko’s Pick: Cal 24, Oregon 42

Colorado at UCLA

7:30pm, ESPN2, UCLA -7

This is the most uncomfortable game on the schedule this week for me to pick. On paper, it ought to be UCLA all the way. Their offense has too many weapons in the passing game - I’m talking about Josh Rosen passing to guys like Jordan Lasley, Caleb Wilson and Darren Andrews - and a (possibly) emerging option at RB with Sosa Jamabo.

On the flip side, Colorado is coming off a tough loss to UW where they were physically strangled and a little bit humiliated while on their home turf. Their QB is certainly questioning himself while the entire offensive line is probably wondering if they stack up.

But the game isn’t played on paper. It is played by two teams coached by staffs whose job it is to get their players over the psychological hurdles and performing at their peak levels. To be fair, I think both Jim Mora and Coach MacIntyre do have the ability to motivate their teams. I just think Mac will do it better.

Gekko’s Pick: Colorado 31, UCLA 27